Jimmy Buffett has a great tune called “A Pirate Looks at 40” and it seems like an appropriate motto to examine my own life at 40. Because as a child, playing pirates was imagining another world, a world where one needed to live off one’s own inventiveness and make one’s own rules. Both ideas are very attractive to a child, and still hold that attractiveness at 40.
I wish I had some great insights after 40 years of life, but mostly what I have are observations. If you don’t mind rambling reflections on a relaxed life, then read on…
First, I need to reveal a secret that everyone “old” knows but few people talk about. No matter what your age once you get past about age 30, you don’t feel it. While you may feel like an awkward teenager at age 15, most people don’t feel like a middle-aged or “old” man at age 40.
Our physical bodies give way when our mental and emotional selves still feel very much young, vigorous and as alive as when we were in our 20s. Perhaps this is due to the enhanced memories we have when we’re in our 20s. We’re still remembering life as it was when we were that age. It’s almost as if our memories somehow get “stuck” in that time period.
This may not be such a bad thing when you think about it. When we’re twenty, most of us are still more than a little inexperienced and perhaps a little naïve about life. But we’re young and the world seems like a tabula rasa, just waiting for us to make our imprint on it. It’s a good time, one of new exploration and experimentation for most of us, of finding our way in the world and understanding where we fit in.
Life is full of joy and pain and the pain is always shorter than you think it’s going to be (except when you’re in the middle of it – then it feels endless). The joy is probably also shorter than you’d like it to be, but it’s long enough to remind us why we’re alive.
Life is also full of all types of people, both good and bad, and I’ve met my share of both. The good you keep and they stick with you through thick and thin. The bad you often find out about just a little too late, but hopefully not too late to end your association with them. Both sets of people can teach us things. Things about the world, things about ourselves, and things about what others value in us.
A lot of people go through life trying to avoid pain, disappointment and hurt. I think that’s a lousy way to live, because you’re focused on what you don’t want to do. Instead, I found it more helpful to focus on what I do want to do. In fact, once I’ve set my mind to do something, I often do it regardless of whether I think it’s going to be a success or not.
But while you shouldn’t live life simply trying to avoid pain, you shouldn’t run away from it either. Painful experiences teach us valuable lessons; I know that sounds like absolute rubbish, but it’s still true. I don’t mean we should all look to try and suffer through horrible childhoods, but rather that when pain does come in our life (and it’s inevitable that it does), we shouldn’t shut ourselves off from those feelings. Difficult times teach us the meaning of life and help us find our own inner strength. You unlikely to find your strength and life’s meaning if you’re never challenged and always just live a safe and protected existence. (Tell me it’s tripe, it’s been said before… But truisms get their label for a reason.)